Most of us are lucky to work in an industry where people want to create great things. That’s why it’s sad when, even with the best of intentions, we create an environment that mimics places from our past that don’t promote greatness.

We lead ourselves down the path towards working in silos, managing difficult clients and continuously working on similar projects with similar needs and similar solutions to what we’ve always done before. Let’s not even get started on cash flow and culture issues. I could fill volumes on why I think we recreate the past, but why? Instead, I’d like to introduce you to a new way of thinking.

Or not thinking, actually.

Welcome to the Jellyfish Model.

In March of 2011 I had become extremely frustrated with all the stuff I had to do. Mainly things that began with the word “managing.” Managing growth, managing cash flow, managing new business, managing the team. After a few beers and a lot of Charlie Sheen, I decided to quit doing things I didn’t like. The weirdest thing happened: I went back to doing what I enjoyed. Writing. Talking. Learning. Playing. My lack of managing the things that bugged me didn’t hurt nGen at all. In fact, most of our problems got better the less I tried to manipulate them.

Everything was going great for the rest of the year, but as 2012 approached it became obvious we were starting to outgrow our systems, or lack thereof, in reality. We had become a truly distributed team with 19 people covering three countries and four time zones. The culture was suffering as people who recently joined the company were unknown to those who had been there for years. New names would show up in messages and new voices would be heard on Skype calls. There was a sense for many of losing something special as the company grew and evolved.

In the beginning of 2012, I knew we had to change the way we worked together or the team would start to get discouraged and good people would start leaving. One afternoon I was brainstorming with Rachel Gertz about the way we thought nGen should work. These were some key terms that kept coming up during that conversation:

In other words … Jellyfish.

We see it like this. The Jellyfish Model describes a temporary, distributed, decentralized team that creates its own roles and accomplishes tasks together.

If you decide to keep reading, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to get this concept. Let’s start with the key terms.

Transparent

If a team is going to succeed, it has to know everything that’s going on. If there are any hidden agendas or withheld or missing information, then the team will make unnecessary mistakes. Jellyfish are transparent, but you know that.

Distributed

We’ve found the most talented people want to live somewhere that they feel alive. It’s unlikely that as a team grows that you’ll find everyone you need in one location. Jellyfish are found in every ocean on the planet. Some can even leave the water!

Decentralized

Hierarchies are really good at protecting hierarchies. They aren’t great at finding innovative solutions for ever-changing problems. Decentralized teams give everyone equal footing to find holistic and effective solutions. Even in decentralized teams a temporary hierarchy may form. But its purpose is to maximize the effectiveness of the team. There is no jellyfish king.

Collaborative

For a team to maximize their effectiveness, they have to be able to work together with a high level of trust and understanding. Open communication and a sense for what everyone is doing is very important. Jellyfish work together to clean up the ocean. As far as we know, no jellyfish has ever quit the team.

Adaptive

Everything about our world is changing. We can’t bring the same process, strategy and tactics to each problem. We have to learn to be flexible and bring a fresh solution to each challenge. Jellyfish are masters at adapting to their environment. They live in the warmest waters and beneath the polar ice caps.

Egoless

It only takes one bad apple, or one egomaniac, to ruin a collaborative team. We’ve all seen it. Hell, we may have even been the person. To create something great we have to put our own desires aside and focus on the needs of the team. Jellyfish don’t have brains, so egos aren’t an issue.

These are just a few of the similarities we found between the team we want to be and our spineless friends. But we thank them for lending their name to our concept. A concept which we’re evolving into with every new project.

In no way do we think we’ve found the only solution to building a better company. But this feels right to us. Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing more about our ongoing transformation.

First up, how does new business happen in the land of jelly?